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Tiller extension or joystick?

by Han
(Brittany, France)

In "parts of a sailing ship" you explain the function of the tiller extension. In Dutch this stick is called 'kolderstok', which in English literally means joystick. When in the heat of the race, I would prefer the use of the shorter word.

In the ships the Dutch used to conquer large parts of the world during the 16th and 17th century, the poop-deck (from where the ship was commanded and steered) was built several decks above the rudder and tiller. To bridge that vertical distance they used a long beam, hinged somewhere in the middle, connected to the tiller with a collar ("kolder" in contemporary Dutch, later used in other contexts in the meaning "funny nonsense") and above deck with tackles to the steering wheel.

As a lot of Dutch nautical words and expressions were adopted by Western-European seagoing nations (even with a Russian sailor it is nowadays relatively easy to discuss nautical matters) the word kolderstok came to English in the form of "joystick".

So, proud of my Dutch nautical ancestry and also admiration for yours, I would like to suggest you use "joystick".


Hi Han

In English and in my entire time as a sailor, I must confess, I have never known it to be called a joystick. I think that the translation to English from Old Dutch may have changed over time from what you now call a joystick to what we call a tiller (and the tiller extension is simply an extension of the tiller).

Also more modern dinghies that go at a faster speed are more likely to heel alot more and go in stronger winds. This means that you need to sit further up the boat and further out the boat requiring the use of an elongated tiller (or tiller extension).

However it is interesting that, that word came to mean a joystick in English since it was in fact a sort of joystick in the manner you described on the poop-deck. The nautical language changes must have happenned relatively recently with the appearence of more high performance boats and skiff that required a longer tiller.

However the change from joystick to tiller, I am unsure of and it may have just become a more popular name.

A very interesting question and one I cannot answer with full confidence and so I hope that other members of the community might be able to help you further. A great bit of the history of sailing there and most of it I didn't know already!

Best Regards

Comments for Tiller extension or joystick?

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Mar 11, 2009
Kolderstok, joystick and whipstaff (and an aside on tiller and helm).
by: Han

Hi Alex,
First point: maybe my text wasn't very clear; however, I never intended to question the use of the word "tiller". It is one of the ancient and respected names for the horizontal part of the steering mechanism with which the rudder is moved by the helmsman to steer the boat (or ship). By the way, the Dutch name for the tiller is "helmstok"; funny how our languages are intertwined, don't you think? (By now you must have guessed that Dutch stok = English stick).
As I posed my original question with words straight from my memory, and having read your comment, I did some research on the matter and came up with the 16th century English name for the kolderstok: whipstaff. In English shipping it was in use, even in ships of the line, until the middle of the 18th century.
There were more impurities in my question, but I will keep it short this time.
To imagine how it worked: stand (face forward) in the stern of your boat, tiller pointing forward between your legs. Now pick up the extension without detaching it from the tiller and hold it vertically before you. Now place your left-hand index forward and your thumb behind the middle of the extension and keep it upright that way. With your right hand, letting the extension hinge between left index en thumb, you can now move the top of the extension to left and right, the result is the move of the tiller to right respectively to left. Bingo: the whipstaff!
Having found out that the original English name of the kolderstok was whipstaff, I alter my question to: why don't you use that word, in honour of your naval ancestry, instead of that ugly "tiller extension"? And let's forget the joystick!

Best regards,


Mar 11, 2009
Why it is called a tiller extension...
by: Alex Dotsch

Hi Han

A whipstaff is a vertical (2 dimensional) extension to the tiller, whilst a tiller extension is a vertical and horizontal (3 dimensional) extension to the tiller. The tiller extension sits upon a rotating disk so that the tiller can move 360 degrees around its axis.

This is different to a whip staff that was constantly vertical and so would not is no longer useful in today's dinghy racing. Therefore the word tiller extension is used to make the distinction from the two entirely separate entities.

Best Regards

Mar 12, 2009
O.K., extension it is.
by: Han

Hi Alex, thanks for your answer. I understand your reasoning and accept that your definitions are more strict than mine. So I won't pursue any further; but undoubtedly we'll see each other on other topics.
Best regards, Han.

Oct 13, 2015
Tiller extension or joystick? NEW
by: Anonymous

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